Based on the actors -- Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World's Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Help's Octavia Spencer and royal comedy couple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally -- Smashed sounds like indie movie gold. Writer/Director newcomer James Ponsoldt and his co-writer Susan Burke even debuted the film at Sundance and won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing. Unfortunately though, unless you're going into the film with fairly low expectations, you'll be sorely disappointed. To get you ready for what's to come, here are five things Smashed certainly is not.
A Public Service Announcement
The film stars Winstead as Kate Hannah, a late-20-something-year-old living in Los Angeles with her husband Charlie (Paul), who, after her drinking leads her to a series of dangerous situations and puts her job as a teacher in jeopardy, gets the wake-up call that she needs to seek sobriety. With the help of her school's vice principal Mr. Davies (Offerman) and kind-hearted (and sorely underused) AA sponsor Jenny (Spencer), Kate goes through the difficult journey of giving up drinking, leaving behind parts of herself both good and bad that change her forever. At times, Smashed feels so much like a PSA that it's almost a chore to watch. It's obvious that dealing with alcoholism is close to the creative team's hearts, but the movie suffers from its seriousness and predictability. (I should also add that it is in no way affiliated with Koren Zailckas' novel Smashed, which I haven't read in years, but I recall retains a sense of humor while doling out some hard truths about life.)
Void of Laughter
It'd almost be impressive to have a movie with both Offerman and Mullally and not have it be hilarious -- and Smashed is not without its funny moments. There are extremely heavy-handed scenes that Offerman (and to some degree, Winstead) saves thanks to comic realness and self-awareness. Without those few excellent additions, the movie would be impossibly more difficult to watch... unless, of course, watching a young woman nearly destroy her own life sounds like your form of entertainment.
All About Aaron Paul
If you're coming to this movie with the expectations of seeing Paul work those Emmy-winning chops, you'll be sorely disappointed. Instead, I'd suggest just re-watching Season 2 of Breaking Bad where Jesse Pinkman courts Jane, because Charlie is essentially just a post-meth Jesse not learning from his past lessons and having less believable chemistry with his partner. That's not to say Charlie has a worse relationship with Kate than Jesse does with Jane -- it's just that Charlie is a background character in Kate's journey to sobriety. And Winstead is by no means disappointing in Smashed; she's an extremely strong female lead and works her material quite well. The fault here is at the tone of the writing, rather than any particular actor.
There are huge jumps in pacing in this movie, forcing the viewer to follow a rushed, vague timeline. Sometimes it works -- there's a reason AA suggests that addicts count every single day of sobriety -- but other times the jumps feel contrived, with the rise of actions and epiphanies escalating far too quickly. By the end of Smashed, it's hard to tell how much time has gone by and difficult to determine which victories and punishments were actually earned, even if the winners and losers are written out perfectly for you.
I realize this isn't exactly a glowing review to begin with, but the ending of Smashed is arguably its most unsatisfying element. It feels as if the writers knew how to answer some of the questions they posed, but for everything they didn't quite understand, they chose to fault to vague and depressing, rather than, say, poignant and unexpected.
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